Kristen Neff is an important name in the world of psychology. Neff works as an author and associate professor in the Educational Psychology department at the University of Texas in Austin and created the Self-Compassion Scales (SCS), a 26-item assessment that measures the construct of self-compassion.
Neff recently discussed the importance of being in the present moment, a skill that is proven to support improved mental health. For those struggling with an eating disorder, existing in the present moment can be incredibly beneficial in treatment and recovery.
The Power of the Present Moment
As a therapist at a residential eating disorder treatment center, I often emphasize to patients that their power only exists in the present moment and that lamenting over the past or worrying about the future is akin to wasting this power. Kristen Neff perfectly describes this by stating, “conscious awareness only exists in the here-and-now…this insight allows us to see that thoughts about the past and the future are just that: thoughts. The past doesn’t exist except in our memories, and the future doesn’t exist except in our imagination .”
People spend a great deal of their time considering how the past has wounded them or how the future may challenge them. Ultimately, this is not a helpful use of time, as what has happened is a reality that cannot be changed, and what will happen is not something we can anticipate. Even so, there is only so much time in a day, and when it is used in this way, it cannot be used to harness the power of the present.
How is the Past Alive in the Present?
There are many ways learning to be more present-minded can improve progress in eating disorder treatment and recovery. For many, eating disorder beliefs and behaviors arise from past painful experiences such as unresolved trauma from abuse, neglect, loss, tragic life events, or bullying.
Continuing to live in these experiences makes an individual stagnant, but they often do not know how to effectively process, cope, and move forward. Practicing mindfulness skills that can help an individual explore how these experiences are alive and harmful in the present moment can help shift focus from what happened to how it is impacting the person’s behaviors and beliefs today.
Accepting the Present Moment
Existing and connecting with being in the moment is also important as it relates to reality acceptance. Eating disorders may arise as an ineffective coping skill or void acne mechanism to distract from pain in the present.
Acknowledging the present circumstances means facing that pain head-on and accepting it even if it is difficult. Accepting reality allows an individual to then explore how they can effectively cope with that reality.
Engaging in the present moment is also hugely important when it comes to engaging in Intuitive Eating. For an individual to eat intuitively, they use an awareness of their present body and emotions.
This allows the individual to tap into hunger and fullness cues as well as to check-in with their current emotional state and how it may relate to their food urges. Intuitive Eating is a key aspect of eating disorder recovery and is not possible without mindful awareness and connection with the present moment.
Existing in the present moment and practicing, as Kristen Neff encourages, being here now is associated with fewer eating disorder symptoms and could be hugely beneficial to one’s recovery . Free yourself from past pain and future anxiety and ask yourself how you can harness the power you hold in this very moment?
Resources Neff, K. (2012). Self compassion: the proven power of being kind to yourself. New York, New York.  Masuda, A., Marshall, Latner, J. (2018). Mindfulness as a moderator of the association between eating disorder cognition and eating disorder behavior among a non-clinical sample of female college students: a role of ethnicity. Frontier Psychology.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published February 27, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on February 27, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC